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How to build the digital newsroom

By Châu Mai

To survive and succeed in the Internet era, the newsroom has to transform itself and instantly keep up with the latest technological developments. Matt Wells, The Guardian US blogs and networks editor based in New York, and Emily Ramshaw, editor of The Texas Tribune, talked about ways to remake the newsroom during “Building the digital newsroom.”

Ramshaw shared four successful strategies her news organization applied since it was launched in 2009.

  • Reporters are also editors and editors are also reporters.
  • Hire “the absolutely best in the business” to draw in the most attention.
  • Pushing not pulling with the content. “Pushing means social media, events, offering the content for free that basically anybody would take and try to get as many eyeballs who normally expect our content as possible.”
  • Mobile platforms and devices.

Meanwhile, Wells said the Guardian in the United Kingdom has transformed into the UK’s leading website and still maintains the daily newspaper and Sunday newspaper. The company has tried to incubate the mobile newspaper for the future audience without confronting the print products. The keys for his 40-person American office are:

  • Establishing the newsroom made up of different kinds of journalists, including interactive and data journalists, interactive designers, interactive developers, and data developers discovering new ways to interact with the audience.
  • Doing journalism and thinking about journalism differently and in different ways.
  • Permanent community desk, community manager-coordinator and social media coordinator in charge of encouraging the audience’s participation and working with other news organizations

Ramshaw said The Texas Tribune also quickly realized that some traditional management structures really work such as having copy editors in traditional newsrooms. She said her digital newsroom recently has copy editors who work overnight to keep up with news cycles and check every line of the content to make sure that there is no spelling error or AP style mistake. Ramshaw suggests bringing back copy editors to the digital newsroom if we want to be legitimate, relevant, and “don’t want our copies to be kicked back by anybody else.”

The key for her digital newsroom is to take risks, fail and try something new the next day. That doesn’t happen in traditional news organizations which are so big and have many moving parts.

In the digital newsroom, Ramshaw said how people think about storytelling is completely different. What matters is how the story will be told. Wells said he expects his reporters to be across social media, using it not just to promote their stories but to tell the stories. Ramshaw added the Texas Tribune has just hired an innovation officer whose basic job is to intensely monitor how social media are working for the newsroom, how it helps drive the traffic, and how to apply new software and open-source software.

The digital newsroom, Ramshaw said, does so much with data and data applications, visualization and audio. That’s why her news organization tends to hire people who not only have remarkable journalistic skills but also have data proficiency, are able do all many different tasks such as audio and video editing software, and comfortable to do a whole range of platforms.

Châu Mai is a graduate student at Emerson College Department of Journalism.

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